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by Lachlan Hellyer reporting for AFANA from Toronto

Photographs of Gold Coast Suns star Harley Bennell allegedly using illicit drugs in a Launceston (Tasmania) hotel room have been leaked to the press. Another Gold Coast Suns player confirmed to the club he was with Bennell on the night, though no photographs of him have been circulated, and his identity is not currently known.
Bennell Runs
This development comes in light of allegations made by disgraced former teammate of Bennell’s, Karmichael Hunt, that as many as 12 Gold Coast Suns footballers joined him for an end of season cocaine binge in 2014. The names of the players implicated by Hunt have not been made public. The images of Bennell, reportedly taken in March 2013, are a stark reminder that the AFL’s fight against illicit drug use is more serious than they may have been prepared to admit. The formative years of the Gold Coast Football Club will be forever tainted by its association with Karmichael Hunt. That is not to say that a Gold Coast player who took cocaine or any illicit substance is not entirely responsible for his actions. We are all just prisoners here of our own device, as the great Don Henley once sang.

The Gold Coast franchise will not easily recover from this exposure of what some see as a damaged brand. Many people are appealing for the AFL’s controversial three strikes Illicit Drug Policy to be overhauled in the wake of the Gold Coast scandal, with some suggesting the policy be amended to two strikes. Despite a reluctance in the past by League officials to engage in a dialogue about the drug policy, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan has confirmed that changes will be made to the policy by the end of the year. “Our policy was right ten years ago, but I’m not sure it is going forward, and we’ve been reviewing it for many weeks, and we’ll have a new policy in place for the start of the off season this year” he told the media.

The AFL and the Gold Coast Football Club will support Harley Bennell during this time, but the AFL has not ruled out some form of punishment being handed to the player. “We need to focus on the player who is on the front page of the paper and needs the support of our industry. His welfare is our major concern today. We can’t say that we care about making a difference in players’ lives and turn away when there is pressure”, Gillon McLachlan said at an AFL media conference. He went on to talk about potential sanctions Bennell could face. “In the end it’s a balance between him being accountable for his actions and being aware and being responsible to his fellow players, to the football club, to their supporters, to our industry, and balancing that with (Harley’s) welfare needs”.

Gold Coast captain Gary Ablett and club CEO Andrew Travis headlined a group of club leaders and officials who have investigated the culture at the GCS football club. Before the photographs of Harley Bennell had been released, Ablett was steadfast in his belief that there was not a culture of drug use at his club. “No. I’ve never seen anything like that going on. I want to make sure the facts are put in front of the whole leadership group and we’ll work out the process that we go through from there”, he was quoted as saying. “If it was going on, that’s just unacceptable.” Now, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, Ablett, the players, coaches and club officials must accept the reality that drug use has marred the reputation of the Gold Coast Suns. And if the names of the players allegedly involved in Karmichael Hunt’s cocaine binge party are released to the press, things could get a lot worse before they get better.


Article last changed on Wednesday, July 08, 2015 - 2:59 AM EDT

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